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NBA Power Rankings: Kings Crack the Top Five

Sacramento is suddenly gaining on Denver in the race for first place in the Western Conference. There was quite a bit of movement among the top five in this week’s power rankings. Most notably, the Nuggets dropped two spots to No. 4 amid a three-game losing streak and the Kings inched up two spots to move to No. 5 thanks to its three-game win streak. Sacramento is creeping up on Denver in the Western Conference standings and the same goes for our rankings. The Celtics were the beneficiary of the Nuggets’ slide as they inched up to No. 2. Elsewhere around the NBA, there were injuries to Kevin Durant and Luka Dončić, the Grizzlies managed to string together a few wins with Ja Morant still away from the team and in Los Angeles, the Lakers and Clippers both looked sharp. See where every team in the Association stands with less than a month remaining in the regular season. 1. Milwaukee BucksRecord: 48–19Previous ranking: 1 A hand injury held Giannis Antetokounmpo out for three games last week and the Bucks largely held their own without their MVP candidate. Khris Middleton matched a season-high with 24 points in a win in Orlando last Tuesday and added 11 assists in his best showing of the season. Bobby Portis tallied 28 points and 13 rebounds to beat the Nets two days later. Milwaukee lost to Golden State in overtime on the road Saturday despite connecting on 21 threes. That was the first leg of a trying three-game West Coast road trip. The top team in the league returns to Fiserv Forum on Thursday to host Indiana. 2. Boston CelticsRecord: 47–21Previous ranking: 3 The Celtics put an emphatic stop to their three-game losing streak last Wednesday against the Trail Blazers. Behind Jayson Tatum’s 30 points, they beat Portland by 22 to get back in the win column. Boston kept it up over the weekend in Atlanta, where it dispatched the Hawks by nine on the road. Tatum’s 34 points and 15 boards led the team, and the C’s connected on 20 threes in an offensive clinic on the first stop of a six-game road trip. 3. Philadelphia 76ersRecord: 45–22Previous ranking: 4 The 76ers, winners of five in a row, have the longest active winning streak in the NBA. Joel Embiid built on his MVP case last week with 39 points in a dominant win in Minnesota and he added 39 more, plus the game winner, back home against the Trail Blazers. Philadelphia capped off an undefeated week Sunday with a dominant win over Washington, in which Embiid, the league’s leading scorer at 33.4 points per game, finished with 34 points. The Sixers remain in striking distance of the Celtics and Bucks and have three road games ahead this week. 4. Denver NuggetsRecord: 46–22Previous ranking: 2 Denver’s hold on the No. 1 seed in the West is loosening amid its second three-game losing streak of the season. Nikola Jokić finished with just 18 points in an 18-point loss to the Bulls at Ball Arena that started the skid last Wednesday. That was just the fifth loss at home this year for the Nuggets. They hit the road for their next game against the Spurs, whom they lost to by eight two days later. And back in the Mile High City on Sunday, Denver lost again to the Nets by two. Jokić assembled a 35-point, 20-rebound, 11-assist stat line for his 27th triple double, but it wasn’t enough to beat Brooklyn. Now the Nuggets hit the road for a five-game trip. Kings forward Domantas Sabonis, who leads the NBA in rebounding, posted his ninth triple=double of the season against the Knicks last Thursday.Ed Szczepanski/USA TODAY Sports 5. Sacramento KingsRecord: 40–26Previous ranking: 7 The Kings continue to close the gap between them and the Nuggets, which is now at five games. They picked up two solid wins last week at home against the Knicks and on the road against the Suns to clinch their first 40-win season since 2005-06, the last time they made the playoffs. Domantas Sabonis stuffed the stat sheet against New York as he finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. With the help of 64 bench points, Sacramento managed 128 points against Phoenix even though no player reached 20 points in the game. 6. Cleveland CavaliersRecord: 43–27Previous ranking: 5 Cleveland traded blows with Miami on the road last week as each team scored a victory. The Cavaliers won by four Wednesday and lost the next game by four despite Donovan Mitchell’s 42 points. Their road trip continued Sunday in Charlotte, where they scored a six-point victory without Jarrett Allen (eye). Darius Garland’s 28 points and six assists paced the team, which has one more game against the Hornets on Tuesday night before it returns home to Ohio. 7. New York KnicksRecord: 40–30Previous ranking: 6 After following up their nine-game winning streak with three consecutive losses, the Knicks stopped the bleeding Sunday by beating the Lakers in L.A. Julius Randle had a big bounce-back game against his former team with 33 points the day after his poor performance in an 11-point loss to the Clippers. New York also lost on the road in Sacramento on Thursday and at home to Charlotte on Tuesday earlier in the week. The only game Jalen Brunson was active for was the Kings game, which he left early after he re-aggravated his foot injury. 8. Memphis GrizzliesRecord: 40–26Previous ranking: 9 Memphis went 2–1 last week without Ja Morant, who will remain away from the team for at least two more games. The Grizzlies lost their third game in a row last Tuesday to the Lakers on the road despite 26 points from Jaren Jackson Jr. Back at home Thursday, they got the best of the Warriors for the first time this season. Tyus Jones led the way with 21 points and 11 assists in a 21-point win over their rival in a heated contest. Memphis followed that up with a win against Dallas over the weekend behind Desmond Bane’s 25 points. 9. Phoenix SunsRecord: 37–30Previous ranking: 8 Kevin Durant didn’t end up making his home debut for Phoenix last week as originally planned. The star forward suffered an ankle sprain during pregame warmups Wednesday and will be re-evaluated in three weeks, right around the start of the postseason. The Suns went on to beat the Thunder that night without him thanks to Devin Booker’s 44-point performance and then lost to the Kings over the weekend. Given what Phoenix forked over to acquire Durant, the team is somewhat depleted without the assets it sent Brooklyn for the superstar it got in return. The Suns have a tough schedule going forward, though they do currently occupy a top-four seed in the West. 10. Los Angeles ClippersRecord: 36–33Previous ranking: 11 The Clippers are trending in the right direction once again after a rough patch that saw the team briefly fall to .500. After Sunday’s 11-point win against New York, Los Angeles has won three in a row, its longest winning streak since January. Kawhi Leonard finished with 38 points in the victory and Paul George added 22. Leonard’s 24-point double-double lifted the team to an eight-point victory over the Raptors earlier in the week to sweep the season series. Next up is a visit from the Warriors, whom L.A. is neck and neck with in the Western Conference playoff race. 11. Golden State WarriorsRecord: 35–33Previous ranking: 10 Two more road losses last week dropped Golden State’s record in away games to 7–26. Steph Curry had 40 points in Oklahoma City, but the Warriors still came up short on Wednesday and it was the same story two nights later in a 21-point loss in Memphis. The Warriors, who defend home court fiercely, beat the Bucks without Antetokounmpo in overtime Saturday to end their short-lived, three-game skid as Curry racked up 36 points. 12. Brooklyn NetsRecord: 39–29Previous ranking: 15 Brooklyn is not giving up any ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Nets went 3–1 on the road last week and have won five of six heading into Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the final game of their road trip. Their only loss came by five points against the Bucks, who were without Antetokounmpo. Beyond that, Mikal Bridges lifted the team to victories over the Rockets, Timberwolves and Nuggets. Spencer Dinwiddie contributed 16 points and 15 assists in the upset in Denver and he racked up 29 points and 11 dimes in the Minnesota game. 13. Atlanta HawksRecord: 34–34Previous ranking: 14 The Hawks concluded their four-game road trip against division opponents by defeating the Wizards twice last week. Trae Young went for 28 points and 10 assists in a two-point victory on Wednesday and he nearly matched that in a seven-point victory on Friday as he tallied 28 points and nine assists in Washington, D.C. Back home against Boston over the weekend, Atlanta’s defense let it down as it yielded 134 points in an 11-point loss. 14. Miami HeatRecord: 36–33Previous ranking: 13 Time is running out for the Heat to make their move at a top-six seed in the East. There’s no shame in splitting a two-game set with the Cavaliers, which they did on Wednesday and Friday. Jimmy Butler’s 33 points lifted his team to the win in the second matchup. But on Saturday in Orlando, Miami suffered a bad loss in overtime. The Magic jumped on them in the extra period and went on to win by 12 as Butler again led the team in the scoring department, this time with 38. 15. Dallas MavericksRecord: 34–34Previous ranking: 12 The MRI on Luka Dončić’s thigh came back clean last week, a positive sign for the struggling Mavericks. He left Wednesday’s loss to the Mavericks early and then he and Kyrie Irving (foot) were both absent for Saturday’s road loss to the Grizzlies. Dallas is trending downward in the midst of a rough patch without much room for error in the battle for playoff position. 16. Los Angeles LakersRecord: 33–35Previous ranking: 18 The Lakers were close to achieving a .500 record for the first time this season Sunday, but they dropped a tight game to the Knicks at home. Los Angeles won its previous two games earlier in the week against Memphis and Toronto and is 7–3 over its last 10. Anthony Davis put together a 30-point, 22-rebound performance against the Grizzlies and D’Angelo Russell had 28 in the Raptors game, and he followed that up with 33 on Sunday versus New York. LeBron James (foot) remains sidelined with 14 games left in the season and the Lakers currently outside of the play-in picture. Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring (31.2 PPG) and third in steals (1.7 SPG).Stephen Lew/USA TODAY Sports 17. Oklahoma City ThunderRecord: 33–35Previous ranking: 17 Things are looking up for Oklahoma City, which has won five of its last six games and swept a back-to-back on the road over the weekend. The first game for the Thunder last week came at home against the Warriors, whom they beat by nine behind 33 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a 17-point, 11-rebound, 17-assist triple double by Josh Giddey. With SGA sidelined, OKC lost its next game in Phoenix badly, but it bounced back over the weekend to beat New Orleans and San Antonio on Saturday and Sunday. Gilgeous-Alexander racked up 35 points against the Pelicans and rookie Jalen Williams finished with 21 points and 10 assists in the Spurs game. 18. Minnesota TimberwolvesRecord: 34–34Previous ranking: 16 The Timberwolves never stray too far from .500. Right after they rattle off a few wins, about as many losses follow. That was the case last week when they lost twice at home on the heels of a three-game win streak on the road. First was a blowout loss at the hands of the 76ers in which the offense managed a measly 94 points. And the next game was a heart-breaking, one-point loss to the Nets in overtime. 19. Utah JazzRecord: 33–35Previous ranking: 19 The short-handed Jazz came up short Tuesday in Dallas without Jordan Clarkson (finger) or Walker Kessler (non-COVID illness). Kessler returned to the lineup two days later in Orlando and picked up where he left off with yet another double-double and Lauri Markkanen logged his second consecutive 30-point game. Over the weekend in Charlotte, Markkanen shot just 3-for-22 from the field but Talen Horton-Tucker stepped up to score 37 in a win, adding eight rebounds and 10 assists to boot. 20. New Orleans PelicansRecord: 33–35Previous ranking: 21 New Orleans survived a late run by Dallas last Wednesday to pick up a big win at home. Brandon Ingram (ankle) left the game in the second quarter and missed the next two games while C.J. McCollum’s 32 points paced the team. The Pelicans lost the next time out to the Thunder on Saturday and turned around and defeated the Trail Blazers the next day on the second leg of a back-to-back. Troy Murphy III went for a career-best 41 points in the 17-point victory. 21. Toronto RaptorsRecord: 32–36Previous ranking: 20 The Raptors lost twice in L.A. last week to stretch their losing streak to three games. They shot below 40% from the field in an eight-point loss to the Clippers on Wednesday, then Scottie Barnes scored 32 points and O.G. Anunoby added 31 in a losing effort Friday versus the Lakers. Toronto’s next three games are at home, starting Tuesday against Denver, as the team tries to hang onto a play-in spot in the East. 22. Chicago BullsRecord: 31–36Previous ranking: 24 The Bulls did well for themselves last week with a quick 2–0 road trip as they teeter on the play-in bubble. Denver has been one of the toughest teams to beat at home this season but Chicago left Ball Arena with a convincing 117–96 win last Wednesday. Zach LaVine’s 29 points led all scorers and Nikola Vucevic finished with 25 points and 15 boards. The Bulls, who have had their struggles on the road this season, won away from the Windy City again on Saturday in Houston. LaVine again led the team in scoring, this time with 36 points. 23. Indiana PacersRecord: 31–37Previous ranking: 25 Indiana heads into Detroit on Monday night looking to win three in a row for the first time since a stretch from late December into early January. They’ll be without Tyrese Haliburton (knee), Myles Turner (back) and Benedict Mathurin (ankle). The Pacers have been stringing victories together more frequently as of late—they beat the Rockets in overtime last Thursday behind 29 points and a career-high 19 assists from Haliburton—but their lengthy injury report is a point of concern for the season’s home stretch as they fight for a play-in spot. The Wizards have fallen out of a play-in spot after losing three games in a row.Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports 24. Washington WizardsRecord: 31–37Previous ranking: 23 It took Daniel Gafford’s buzzer-beating putback for Washington to get past Detroit on Tuesday and that ended up being its only win of the week. The Wizards headed home for a two-game set with the Hawks and they dropped both even though Kristaps Porzingis racked up a career-high 43 points in the first game and Bradley Beal tallied 27 in the second. The Wizards suffered a 19-point loss Sunday in Philadelphia and are back in the nation’s capital Tuesday against the Pistons. 25. Portland Trail BlazersRecord: 31–37Previous ranking: 22 Following a 2–1 start, Portland dropped the last three games of its road trip. The Trail Blazers were blown out by 22 points in Boston and then lost at the buzzer on an Embiid game-winner in Philadelphia. Anfernee Simons took over against the 76ers and finished with 34 points on eight made threes and Damian Lillard added 22 points in the loss. The last leg of the trip was a Sunday stop in New Orleans, where Portland lost by 17 without Lillard (calf) 26. Orlando MagicRecord: 28–40Previous ranking: 26 Orlando avoided going winless across its four-game homestand by beating Miami at home Saturday night. It took overtime to put the Heat away, but Wendell Carter Jr.’s 27-point, 11-rebound performance propelled the Magic to a double-digit win in the extra period. In their previous two games they had allowed more than 130 points in consecutive losses to the Bucks and Jazz. Next up is a Western Conference road trip that begins Tuesday in Sacramento. 27. Charlotte HornetsRecord: 22–48Previous ranking: 27 Charlotte followed up a two-game win streak on the road with a pair of losses at home over the weekend. The Hornets had defeated the Knicks on the road Tuesday behind 27 points from Kelly Oubre Jr., who repeated that performance two nights later in a 10-point win in Detroit. They then lost to the Jazz on Saturday and Cavs on Sunday as Mark Williams (thumb) missed both games and Oubre Jr. (back) was out for the second leg of the back-to-back. Charlotte hosts Cleveland again Tuesday. 28. San Antonio SpursRecord: 17–50Previous ranking: 30 The Spurs played spoiler to the Nuggets at home Friday night when they handed the top team in the conference its second consecutive loss. Keldon Johnson’s 23 points led the way for San Antonio, which had lost back-to-back games and had a four-day layoff since its last action. The Spurs got back to losing two days later when they fell to the Thunder at home by 12. Four games remain in their six-game homestand. 29. Houston RocketsRecord: 15–52Previous ranking: 28 Houston began a new losing streak last week after it beat up on San Antonio twice the prior weekend. The Rockets lost to the Nets at home by 22, fell by nine in overtime on the road against the Pacers and dropped a game to the Bulls by eight back at the Toyota Center. Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. finished with a career-high 30 points and 12 boards in Indiana and had 20 and 12 against Chicago. 30. Detroit PistonsRecord: 15–53Previous ranking: 29 It’s been more than a month since the Pistons’ last win. Their league-high 11-game losing streak is on the line Monday night against the Pacers. They already lost to Indiana on Saturday, which followed losses to the Wizards and Hornets last week. Another defeat Monday would conclude an 0–5 homestand for Detroit. The team has been without Jaden Ivey (health and safety protocols), Bojan Bogdanovic (Achilles) and Marvin Bagley III (ankle) for stretches of this most recent string of losses.

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